Review: Ivan Segarra’s Portraits Capture the Essence of the Human Condition

Portrait painting has always played a vital role in creative expression throughout art history. The best portraits in many of today’s museums not only convey the intricacy of the human spirit, but also in some cases, give insights into social, cultural, and political history. Today, many contemporary portrait painters keep this genre alive through stylistic innovations.

And this leads to Expressions Segarra at AponteART that displays 27 portraits by Ivan Segarra. This is Segarra’s first solo show and is also the first exhibition at AponteART.

What is most striking when viewing Segarra’s work is his ability to capture various emotional states of his subjects such as grief, anxiety, and fear. The spectrum of emotions can range from subtle to dramatic. Because there is an emotional depth in many of his works, viewers may find themselves experiencing a personal connection as if they are sharing that same intimate moment with one of Segarra’s subjects.

All Shall Pass_Segarra
Ivan Segarra, All Shall Pass/Todo Pasará, 2018. Mixed media. Photo courtesy of the artist.

There is also the element where one may feel like a voyeur peaking into a secret moment in someone’s life. One’s curiosity is aroused when looking at the eyes and the facial expressions of his subjects. And that curiosity makes one study Segarra's works even more closely. There is also an undercurrent of a larger story taking place that makes the viewer create a narrative. And yet for some of his works, a narrative of any sort is elusive and the viewer is left to enjoy the unknown and appreciate the beauty of mystery.

Many of Segarra’s works illustrate how certain situations in life can leave one feeling vulnerable and even fragile. A good example of this is All Shall Pass/Todo Pasará where a woman has her hand over her face as if experiencing a sense of loss. When looking at this work, the emotion of empathy is aroused within us. We cannot help but feel an immediate connection with this woman because the work resonates something deep within us — a feeling of loss that we have all experienced.

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Ivan Segarra, Visions of Things to Come/Visiones del Porvenir, 2018. Acrylic on cardboard. Photo courtesy of the artist.

To highlight the inner emotional state of his subjects, Segarra uses various colors on their skin as well as in the background such as in Visions of Things to Come/Visiones del Porvenir, where we see a woman looking upward with one hand on her head. Segarra’s use of colors on the woman’s skin and in the background illuminate her emotional state of being. Even though at first glance she may look overwhelmed, a closer look reveals that she possesses an inner strength and is ready to handle whatever life brings her way.

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Ivan Segarra, Dreaming in Blue/Soñando en Azul, 2022. Acrylic on paper. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In Dreaming in Blue/Soñando en Azul, Segarra creates a stained glass effect in the background as we see a woman resting on a cushion. The stained glass blocks represent a sense of serenity while showing how this woman has found peace and comfort in her solitude and who she is as a person.  

Segarra also explores the theme of getting in touch with oneself in Desert Calls/El Desierto Llama, where a Tuareg tribesman from North Africa looks outward into the desert. This work suggests that the desert is a place of mysticism, transformation, and shamanic visions. Segarra seems to suggest that the desert can either be an exterior setting or a place deep within ourselves where we can encounter clarity and experience a sense of revelation about our true nature.   

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Ivan Segarra, Desert Calls/El Desierto Llama, 2021. Acrylic, inks and gouache. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Expressions Segarra is a beautiful and thought-provoking exhibition because Segarra’s art triggers our emotions and resonates deep within us. In the end, we are not only a captive audience, but we also find ourselves having a dialogue with many of his works.

Segarra is a life-long Chicagoan who grew up in the Humbolt Park neighborhood. He has been working for the Chicago Public Schools for 31 years as a teacher and as an administrator. For the last eight years, he has been teaching art to pre-K to eighth grade students in the Chicago Public School system.

Expressions Segarra is curated by Janice Aponte and will be on display through April 20. There will be a closing reception on Saturday, April 20, from 5pm to 10pm. AponteART is located at 5504 W. Lawrence Avenue and the hours are Saturday and Sunday, 1pm to 5pm or otherwise by appointment. For more information, visit AponteART.com.

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Thomas Wawzenek